A Huntington Beach woman who was removed from two school district committees after she was alleged to have referred to minorities as "colored people" in a YouTube video addressed the City Council on Monday night to deny allegations in the community that she is racist and to contend that "liberals have become increasingly intolerant of diverse viewpoints."
"As a researcher, I ask myself how did we get to this place, where my words have been attacked and twisted so viciously by the left in an attempt to remove me from positions, threatened by ideological differences?" Gracey Larrea-Van Der Mark said during the public comment period of the council meeting.
Larrea-Van Der Mark came under fire in April after she reportedly made the comment in a post with a video she uploaded to YouTube in 2017 showing protesters crashing an anti-racism workshop in Santa Monica by a group called Committee for Racial Justice in 2017.
According to the OC Weekly, Larrea-Van Der Mark wrote: "This meeting was being ran by the elderly Jewish people who were in there. The colored people were there doing what the elderly Jewish people instructed them to do."
Larrea-Van Der Mark said that when she attended the workshop she was "physically assaulted" and described what happened using "terminology" used at the event.
"I consider myself to be a colored person. I am not offended by the term," said Larrea-Van Der Mark, who is Latina. She added that the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People also uses the phrase.
"In my opinion, all people of all colors should be accepted, all political sides should be accepted," she said. "But school boards should be nonpartisan."
Larrea-Van Der Mark also addressed allegations of being a "Holocaust denier" because she saved a video on her YouTube account that questioned the Holocaust. She said she saved the video to question the content, not support it.
It was the first time Larrea-Van Der Mark had attended a City Council meeting since April, when she spoke in support of Huntington Beach filing a lawsuit to challenge California's Senate Bill 54, a "sanctuary state" law that expands protections for undocumented immigrants.
She was flanked Monday by several longtime friends and colleagues who for more than an hour described her as passionate, patriotic and "without a racist bone in her body."
"We want to ensure we make a positive impression in showing our support for our sister and to not give the other side ammo to try and use against her in the future," Patriot Voice Rising wrote.
Several of Larrea-Van Der Mark's supporters called the allegations against her a political blow initiated by Ocean View School District trustee Gina Clayton-Tarvin, who last year appointed Larrea-Van Der Mark to a district bond oversight committee but last month called for her removal from the panel and from the city Finance Commission after the alleged "colored people" comment surfaced. Clayton-Tarvin said the remark promoted bigotry and did not reflect the school district.
"I'm personally insulted as a Latina, because Gracey is an inspiration to me," Valentina Bankhead said. "I've volunteered in a Trump campaign. I've dealt with so much racism … to be part of the political sphere, to be advocates for our Constitution, our president. ... We deal with this constantly."
The Ocean View school board voted April 24 to remove Larrea-Van Der Mark from its Citizens Oversight Committee for Measure R. A week later, the Huntington Beach City School District removed Larrea-Van Der Mark from its Measure Q Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee. Both panels oversee expenditures related to voter-approved bond measures for school facility improvements.
Huntington Beach City district officials said Larrea-Van Der Mark was removed after hearing concerns from parents and community members. She was assigned to that committee in 2016 by the Orange County Taxpayers Assn.
City Councilman Patrick Brenden, who appointed Larrea-Van Der Mark to the Finance Commission in 2017, said last month that he would investigate the allegations after he received pressure from residents, school board members and the Anti-Defamation League.
Asked Monday night whether he had reached a decision on whether to keep Larrea-Van Der Mark on the panel, Brenden declined to comment but said he would in two days.
Larrea-Van Der Mark's online activity has received heightened attention since she spoke in support of Huntington Beach's plan to file its lawsuit over SB 54.
The OC Weekly reported on the "colored people" comment days after the City Council approved the lawsuit early last month.